By Derek Minno-Bloom
I moved to New York City (Algonquin and Lenni Lenape Territory) in late 2003. The NYPD’s stop and frisk program was going strong. It was a time when quality of life policies and keeping the streets clean of folks experiencing homelessness were more prominent than the city’s history of movement politics and culture, but there were still some burning embers in the streets left over from the largest global protest in world history against the Iraq War on February 15, 2003.
Those embers were easily fanned when the Republican Party decided to have the Republican National Convention in New York City from August 26 to 31 in 2004. The RNC could not have come to a city less welcoming than New York City. The party clearly wanted to play off of the momentum of 9/11 and the importance of the “War on Terror” by coming to the city were it all started.
Over 30,000 NYPD officers were ordered to Manhattan to confront RNC protesters and to protect the delegates coming to the convention. There were more police in Manhattan at that time than US soldiers who were sent into Afghanistan during the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003. NYC felt like it was under military occupation during that week of August, but as the Black Liberation Army once said, “Repression breeds resistance.” Anywhere from 500,000-800,000 people showed up to protest that week, making it the largest protest of a presidential convention ever. Protesters also set a record that week. Over 1,800 people were arrested, making it the most arrests at a convention in US her/history.
That week I got arrested three times. With hundreds of others, I was thrown into an oily boat warehouse, where we tipped over porta-potties and ripped the chain-link and barbed wire fence, which they had constructed specifically for us, out of the ground. I rode with 6,000 other Critical Mass bike riders. There were constant direct actions and rallies going on. For a while it felt like the ‘60s I had read about. Everybody was in the streets in protest. It felt like there were hundreds of banner drops, and an uncountable number of protesters got into the convention to disrupt it. A diversity of tactics was certainly seen from broken windows and arson to street theater and all kinds of civil disobedience and traffic blocking and some of the largest marches NYC has ever seen. New York City felt alive again for one week that August.
Another amazing part of the convergence in NYC that week was that the politics of intersectionality met the practice. Still We Rise and the Poor People’s Economic Campaign marched and organized against systemic racism and classism. The AIDS Coalition to Un-Leash Power (ACT-UP) did a naked civil disobedience while chanting for the US to drop the debt of foreign countries and to reduce AIDS. The Queer Fist affinity group did a make-out sit-in in Times Square for queer and trans rights. Many groups protested global capitalism and US imperialism, while many radical groups protested the entire existence of the US as a violent and illegal settler colonial state.
There were two main goals during the RNC convergence, either to shut the convention down and send the Republicans packing or to make the RNC feel unwelcome in the NYC. We certainly accomplished the second goal. I probably have never felt as empowered as I did that week, with all two million of us who showed up to protest.
I was recently forced to look back on that RNC twelve years ago, when I received a pretty large check in 2015 from the City of New York, finally settling the last class-action lawsuit I was involved in from 2004, concerning the conditions of the holding facilities they kept us in. That convergence was what really politicized me. I truly believe that because of that convergence I am still an activist today. The memories from the collective power we all had was a glimpse that another world is possible in a US context. The anger I felt toward the NYPD’s unjust policing practices and the collective rage I felt with others against the US government during the RNC are still burning within me today. I got to deeply experience with millions of others that I was not alone, that others believed in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So if you’re thinking of going out to or organizing at the RNC or the DNC this year, I highly recommend it.